What Is A Virtual Private Network (VPN)? Does My Business Need One?
Virtual private networks (VPNs) have been around since 1996, but if you are like most business leaders, you may not fully understand what they do, how they work, and whether your business needs one.
At Kelser, we talk with IT professionals and business leaders like you about VPNs almost every day.
I’m writing this article to provide a resource you can use to truly understand VPNs: the privacy and security advantages they offer, and other information you need to decide if your business needs one.
In this article, I’ll explain what VPNs do, how they work, and their benefits.
After reading this article, you’ll have the knowledge you need to confidently decide if a VPN is the right solution for your business.
What Is A VPN?
A VPN establishes a virtual point-to-point connection allowing data to travel unseen and unchanged through a private tunnel.
Picture a nesting doll (or Matryoshka). Each layer of a Matryoshka doll is opened to reveal a smaller doll inside. Eventually, after all of the dolls are opened, the smallest doll is revealed.
In the same way that the smallest doll is protected by the outer layers and cannot be seen without removing the external dolls, a VPN protects data by encapsulating it. The VPN prevents data (represented by the smallest doll) from being seen by casual observers and restricts access to authorized users.
VPNs also protect the integrity of the data, ensuring that it remains unchanged in transit.
Just as it would be more complicated to ship a full Matryoshka doll with all of the smaller dolls inside it, the type of encryption and hashing used by a VPN will affect the packet overhead (or time it takes to transmit) data packets.
Some VPNs operate in “transport" mode and encrypt just the packet header requiring less overhead. Others operate in “tunnel” mode encrypting the entire packet and requiring more overhead.
VPNs exist and operate at layers 2 through 4 of the Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) model.
How Does A VPN Work?
Hackers have lots of ways to steal data when you use public Wi-Fi.
When you browse using a VPN, your incoming and outgoing information is encrypted, making it less likely that a hacker can access your identity or data. VPNs are not hacker-proof however and should be used in conjunction with other tools to protect user identities and the information being accessed.
When Should I Use A VPN?
VPNs should be used when you want to remotely access information on a company server or whenever you want an extra layer of protection when accessing information online via public Wi-Fi.
Here’s a real-world example:
While waiting for a flight or during a long layover, people often connect to public Wi-Fi via one of the many open wireless SSIDs (service set identifiers) being broadcast.
Using public Wi-Fi like this increases the risk of confidential information being seen by malicious actors. Anyone on the same local network can potentially “sniff” (or eavesdrop on) your traffic.
VPNs provide a method to access confidential and proprietary information on another network with minimal risk of being tracked or hacked.
Are There Different Kinds Of VPNs?
The two main types of VPNs are:
These VPNs make it possible for users to securely access information on a private network by connecting to a secure, remote server that encrypts incoming and outgoing data stored on local networks. These types of VPNs are a good choice for personal use.
These VPNs are used by big organizations in which multiple users (often in different geographic locations) need access to common information.
For example, when a large multinational company acquires another organization, multiple people in different geographic locations need secure access to the same information. Site-to-site VPNs, which can be established with any cloud provider, make that possible.
Does My Business Need A VPN?
If your business has a remote workforce or anyone in your organization needs to access locally stored information, I’d recommend using a VPN to help protect the identity of users and the integrity of your data.
But, to be honest, all businesses should use a VPN as one layer of their security infrastructure.
How Do You Know Which VPN is Best For Your Business?
There are lots of VPNs out there. Some are compatible with certain operating systems, which may help you narrow down the options.
VPNs offer different features, speed, encryption, logs, and customer-service options. It’s important to evaluate your options before selecting the VPN that will best serve your business needs.
How Much Does A VPN Cost?
There are open-source (free) and commercial (paid) VPN options.
Some vendors charge for remote-access VPNs based on the number of users and others do not.
Pricing for a site-to-site tunnel to a cloud provider is typically based on bandwidth and usage.
What Is The Next Step In Choosing A VPN?
Now you have a better understanding of VPNs. You know what they are and how they work. You also know when to use them, and the different kinds. We’ve talked about whether your business needs a VPN, selecting the one that’s best for you, and some of the factors that can affect cost.
At this point, you might be ready to move forward and select a VPN that can help keep your organization operating safely and efficiently.
If you work for a large organization, you may have all of the resources you need to evaluate and select a VPN that will work for you.
Small and medium-sized organizations may not have the staff and time to investigate the options and may want to consider working with an outside IT provider to ensure that they are getting the best equipment for their needs.
At Kelser, we provide a full complement of proactive managed IT for our customers, including the advice of experts of virtual Chief Information Officers (vCIOs) and Technical Alignment Managers (TAMs) who can help evaluate VPNs and other technology solutions and offer suggestions about the best options for your business.
We know that managed IT isn’t right for everyone and that’s why we are committed to providing articles like these that highlight important information business leaders like you need to make important IT infrastructure decisions.
If you don’t have an IT staff or they are stretched thin, find out how a managed IT provider might be able to help. Read this article: Are Managed Services A Good Solution For Small & Medium Businesses?
Or take the short quiz below to find out whether managed IT could help your business.